Synopses & Reviews
In this highly original study, Gregory Downs argues that the most American of wars, the Civil War, created a seemingly un-American popular politics, rooted not in independence but in voluntary claims of dependence. Through an examination of the pleas and petitions of ordinary North Carolinians, Declarations of Dependence
contends that the Civil War redirected, not destroyed, claims of dependence by exposing North Carolinians to the expansive but unsystematic power of Union and Confederate governments, and by loosening the legal ties that bound them to husbands, fathers, and masters.
Faced with anarchy during the long reconstruction of government authority, people turned fervently to the government for protection and sustenance, pleading in fantastic, intimate ways for attention. This personalistic, or what Downs calls patronal, politics allowed for appeals from subordinate groups like freed blacks and poor whites, and also bound people emotionally to newly expanding postwar states. Downs's argument rewrites the history of the relationship between Americans and their governments, showing the deep roots of dependence, the complex impact of the Civil War upon popular politics, and the powerful role of Progressivism and segregation in submerging a politics of dependence that--in new form--rose again in the New Deal and persists today.
"Downs's brilliant, imaginative, and deeply researched book makes us rethink the failure of Reconstruction in the South. He deftly lays out the collapse of Reconstruction in North Carolina while being sensitive to the interplay of politics at the local, state, and national levels."--Scott Nelson, College of William and Mary
"Instead of elaborating on existing frameworks, Downs reframes our basic understanding of southern political culture. The combination of superb writing and analytical originality makes this book a rare achievement."--Laura Edwards, Duke University
"In this carefully crafted and deeply researched study, Gregory Downs shows how the traumatic impacts of the Civil War, Reconstruction, agricultural decline, and the Great Depression undermined the ideal of republican independence among North Carolinians and replaced it with a patron-client relationship between the state and people dependent for succor on powerful politicians. Downs resists the temptation to overgeneralize his findings for North Carolina, while he persuasively suggests that this process prevailed elsewhere as well."--James M. McPherson, author of Battle Cry of Freedom
Through an examination of the pleas and petitions of ordinary North Carolinians, Downs contends that the Civil War redirected, not destroyed, claims of dependence by exposing North Carolinians to the expansive but unsystematic power of Union and Confederate governments, and by loosening the legal ties that bound them to husbands, fathers, and masters.
About the Author
Gregory P. Downs is assistant professor of history at the City College of New York. He is author of Spit Baths, a Flannery O'Connor Award-winning collection of short stories.